The Darkness Falls (Holy Week Reflection 5)


Friday – The Darkness Falls….

Matthew 27: 11-26 (NLT Version)
11Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him. Jesus replied, “You have said it.”
12But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. 13“Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. 14But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.
15Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd – anyone they wanted. 16This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. 17As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you – Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18(He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)
19Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”
20Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. 21So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?” The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”22Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 23“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?” But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”
24Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”
25And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death – we and our children!” 26Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

Just 5 days ago, we celebrated Palm Sunday. Today is Good Friday, the bleakest moment in the Gospels.

From the perspective of 2017, the first Easter crowds seem incredibly fickle. They welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but less than a week later they were calling for him to be crucified! Perhaps Jesus no longer served their agenda! People had been happy to join the ‘happy throng’ when there was ‘merry-making’, but now that things were getting tough, their numbers were quickly dropping away.

The disciples seem completely clueless about what is going on in spite of all the related prophecies in their Scriptures and Jesus’ repeated attempts to help them understand! They had thought that Jesus would be their Messiah; they had thought that he would forcibly deliver his people from all oppression. By this time, they were wondering how any of that could possibly happen – now that it all looked so bleak…now that the darkness was falling.

Pilate, the Roman governor finds Jesus innocent of any crimes, but nonetheless, he gives the crowd the option of releasing Jesus or a guilty criminal, Barabbas. The crowd choose Barabbas to go free thereby sealing Jesus’ fate. An innocent man would die in place of a guilty man. This pointed to the greater truth that Jesus would die instead of and on behalf of guilty humanity.

The religious leaders in this story behaved despicably; Pilate, the Roman governor acted in a ‘spineless’ way. By ‘washing his hands’ of the whole affair, he effectively said ‘I don’t agree with this course of action but neither am I going to do anything to stop it.’ Not one of the key characters comes out of this story as having behaved well, except for Jesus. But it’s for all people, including fickle, clueless, despicable, spineless people that Jesus died.

The wondrous thing is that Jesus’ love for them, and us, was so utterly overwhelming that he was prepared to submit to the greatest injustice ever known!

Not one of us deserves God’s love, but God loves us anyway. Not one of us deserves that Christ should die for us, but he died for us anyway. What a love, what a cost – we stand forgiven at the cross!

Oh, to see the dawn of the darkest day
Christ on the road to Calvary
Tried by sinful men, torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood

This, the power of the cross
Christ became sin for us
Took the blame, bore the wrath
We stand forgiven at the cross

Oh, to see the pain written on Your face
Bearing the awesome weight of sin
Ev’ry bitter thought, ev’ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow

(Getty & Townend © 2005 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music)

You might want to read these following verses out loud.

Mark 15: 33-39 (NIV Version)
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Silent Reflection….and waiting…
It’s relatively easy to walk with Jesus through the good and happy ‘Palm Sunday’ times? Will we continue to journey with him when the darkness starts to fall, when we do not know how things will pan out and when all we can do is to wait?


They Came With Swords & Clubs (Holy Week Reflection 4)

Swords Clubs

Thursday – They Came With Swords & Clubs

Luke 22: 45-53 (NIV Version)
45When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” 47While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.51But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.52Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.”

Imagine yourself caught up in these events. Where are you? Are you one of the disciples struggling to catch up with what is happening having fallen asleep (v.45)? Are you in the crowd waiting to see what is going to happen? Perhaps you are even Judas, greeting Jesus with a kiss? Maybe you plan to save Jesus by ‘taking out’ the opposition like Peter tried to do!

Spend a few minutes quietly thinking yourself into the story before moving on.

Matthew tells us that Judas kissed Jesus; Jesus didn’t refuse Judas’s kiss. Luke tells us that in response Jesus pointed out the hypocritical nature of what Judas was doing. A kiss usually signified devotion, warmth and love. Judas’s kiss signified disillusionment, betrayal and hate. Jesus welcomes us all. He accepts us with our mixed motives, our misunderstandings, even our hypocrisy. There is no mistake he cannot redeem (including cutting off someone’s ear and a lot worse!)

Note that Jesus heals the man who had his ear cut off even though he was part of the arresting party. What love! There is nothing we can do to make him love us more. There is nothing we can do to make him love us less. He simply loves us!

Now imagine yourself back in the story. If the scene was paused for a moment and it was just focused on Jesus and you – what do you think he might say to you? How do you think he would deal with you?  Spend a moment asking Jesus to show you.

Perhaps you might want to write this down somewhere so that you remember throughout the week.

If you are in a group, feel free to share your thoughts if you would like to.



Jesus take me as I am,
I can come no other way.
Take me deeper into You,
Make my flesh life melt away.
Make me like a precious stone,
Crystal clear and finely honed,
Life of Jesus shining through,
Giving glory back to You.
(© Dave Bryant, 1978
Kingsway’s Thankyou Music)

Jesus take me as I am, I can come no other way. Help me to be honest with myself and with you. Thank you that you welcome me just as I am, although you don’t want to leave me just as I am. Thank you that you can redeem any situation. Help me to let go of confusion, insincerity, anger and defensiveness. Help me to become the person you are calling me to be, growing in relationship with you, growing in the fruit of the Spirit and better reflecting your glory!  In Jesus name, Amen.

Be sent out assured of the love of God.
Be sent out convinced of the grace of the Lord Jesus.
Be sent out filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
For His is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
Forever and ever,

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done! (Holy Week Reflection 3)


Wednesday – Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done
Luke 22: 39-44 (NIV Version)
 39Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (NIV)

(Note: Gethsemane is at the foot of the Mt of Olives – see Matthew 22)

I try to make prayer an integral part of my everyday life – sometimes I manage it quite well. Other times I miss the mark. I still find however, that there are specific times when I find myself praying more intensely and passionately. This is particularly true at times of change, when I have to make a big decision about something and when times are tough. I guess that most of us pray quite fervently at times like these.

Perhaps there is a big change coming up in your life. Maybe you need to make some major life decisions. There may be some particularly intense struggles that you need to bring to God in prayer….

As Jesus starts to pray in the garden of Gethsemane, he addresses God as ‘Abba’ (Mark 14:36). This term is most accurately translated as ‘Daddy.’ About to face the most terrifying ordeal, he kneels down, cries out and throws himself with complete trust upon the love of his Daddy.

Not all of us have had easy relationships with our earthly parents and none of us have had perfect parents, but all of us can know and trust God as the perfect, loving Daddy.

The model of prayer that Jesus shows us here invites us to address God not as a slave might address an oppressive master, but rather as a child might address a loving parent.

: Spend some time thinking about yourself through the eyes of a perfect, loving father. How does he feel about you? How does he feel when you trip and fall? How does he feel when you get back up again? What are his hopes for you? How might this affect the way that you pray?

When Jesus asks his heavenly Father to “Let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39), He does so directly, honestly and without shame. If Jesus let his father know that he was scared, then we too can be open and honest with our heavenly Father! It’s OK to tell God when we are having a rough day! It’s OK to tell him that we are feeling down or down-right scared!

Yet, having shared how he is feeling with his Daddy, He immediately accepts the Father’s will over his own saying “Yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). He is absolutely dedicated to carrying out God’s will for his life, even if it is not the path that he himself would have wanted. True courage is not the lack of fear. It is ‘doing something anyway’ even when we are scared!
There in the garden of tears,
 My heavy load 
He chose to bear;
 His heart with
sorrow was torn,
‘Yet not my will,
but Yours’
 He said. 

(Graham Kendrick © 1983 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music)

The cup of suffering is not taken away from Jesus, so he drinks it in full and commits to obedience to the point of death. Jesus modelled true obedience and courage for us. He submitted to the Father’s plan, even if it did not fit with his own plans.

As Jesus finished praying, an angel appeared from heaven and strengthened him. (Luke 22:43). God did not take away Jesus’ suffering and death because they were part of his bigger plan for the salvation of the world. He did however hear the prayers of Jesus, and he answered them by sending an angel to give him the strength and courage to carry out his difficult calling.

Whilst God may not always answer us in the way that we hope, we can be confident that he listens to us. If God calls us to walk the ‘hard path’ then we can trust that He will give us the strength and courage to carry out his will, just as he did for Jesus in the garden.

: Finish by praying the Lord’s prayer slowly, pausing at the end of each phrase to focus on what we are saying to God as we pray.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, Pause

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Pause

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, Pause

As we forgive those who trespass against us. Pause

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Pause

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.

(Adapted from James 1:12 and 2 Corinthians 12:9)
 Blessed are those who keep going in the face of difficulty.
 May God bless you in your struggles and may you remain faithful until that day when you see your crown of life!
 His grace will be sufficient for you, for his power is made perfect in weakness.

Gnats & Camels (Holy Week Reflection 2)

Tuesday: Gnats and Camelsgnat-camel

Matthew 23: 23-24 (NLT Version)
23“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law – justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 24Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel! 25“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

On Tuesday morning, Jesus and his disciples went back to Jerusalem.

As they passed the Temple, the religious leaders challenged Jesus about his authority. They were trying to catch him out so that they had an opportunity to arrest him.

Jesus, on this occasion, was far from quiet. He told the leaders in no uncertain terms that they were so blind that they could not see what God wanted them to see.

They were so meticulous in their observance of the ‘letter of the law,’ that it seems that they ensured that they had given 1/10th of all their herbs.  I imagine them out in their gardens with a wooden ruler! Jesus is not saying that their observance of the law was wrong, but rather that their focus was wrong.

These people had been so obsessive about getting the rules right; about ‘straining the water to avoid swallowing a gnat’ that they had effectively swallowed a camel! They had failed to do the most important thing…

‘act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.’ (Micah 6:8)

The rules had been intended to help them to bless others, but the people had become so caught up with dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s that they were failing to be a blessing to anyone! Such an attitude was unacceptable to Christ then and it still is today.

Spend a few minutes thinking quietly. Afterwards, if you are in a group, share any relevant thoughts.

Do we sometimes try so hard to get things right, obsessing about the detail, that we can miss who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do?

What does it say about our ‘heart attitude’ if we only give Jesus 1/10th – the leftovers of our life? Ask God to show you how you can cultivate an attitude of gratitude, of love and of a generous spirit.

If we are walking humbly with the Lord, we will find that we increasingly reflect his character to the world, a character of justice and mercy. In what practical ways are we showing his character of justice and mercy in this community, in our work places, in this nation and in the world?

We are blessed, to bless a world in pieces,
We are loved, to love where love is not.
We are changed, to be the change you promised,
We are freed, to be your hands, O God
(© 2012 Andy Flannagan)

Spend some time praying about the things that we have been thinking about today.

May the blessing of God’s light be on you; light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire, so that stranger and friend may come and warm themselves at it.
And may light shine out of your eyes, like candles set in the window of a house, bidding the wanderer come in – out of the storm.
(Adapted from a Scottish Blessing)

A House Of Prayer For All Nations! (Holy Week Reflection 1)

Temple ImageMonday – A House of Prayer for All Nations!

Mark 11: 15-18a (NLT version)
15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” 18When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him.

Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and was crucified later the same week on the Friday. What on earth happened in between?

We know that he had a final supper with his friends and that he washed their feet. We know that he cursed a fig tree and that he wept over the city of Jerusalem.  Yet, those actions don’t really seem like the sort of things that would get someone executed. What might step things up a bit more are the events of Marks Gospel when Jesus walked into the Temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers. Jesus’ actions in the Temple are a crucial part of the Holy Week story and show Jesus’ radical agenda – an agenda that would not just turn the tables upside down, but that had the capacity to turn the world upside down.

So….the day after Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem, he heads to the Temple. He is so enraged by what he finds that he pushes over the tables of the money changers, scatters the money and drives the traders out with whips!

This is not how we think of Jesus! What has made him act this way?

It is thought that this incident happened at Solomon’s Porch, the outermost part on the east side of the Temple and the gateway to the Court of the Gentiles. This had become a noisy, crowded market full of hustle and bustle and probably quite smelly from all the animals! Yet, Jesus wasn’t opposed to markets…so what was the problem?

An inscription uncovered by archaeologists may help us understand. The inscription found in the Court of the Gentiles is dated 20 B.C. and warns Gentiles (non-Jews) that they must not go any further into the Temple…‘on fear of death.’ The only place that the Gentiles were permitted to worship was in this outer part of the Temple, but how could they possibly pray and worship God in the middle of a noisy, crowded market?! A little research shows that the whole layout and practices of the Temple served to successively exclude different categories of people. In this case, the Gentiles were effectively being prohibited from worshipping.

People were being stopped from coming closer to God! This was a huge injustice and a huge sin, albeit perhaps, an inadvertent one!

Quoting Isaiah 56:7, Jesus said ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ (Mark 11:17).

Spend a few minutes thinking or discussing:

What barriers do we (perhaps inadvertently) put up that might make it harder for people that are ‘not like us’ to worship or to come closer to Jesus?

How, individually and as a congregation, can we build more bridges to our community and to those who do not yet know Jesus? How can we dismantle the walls that might serve to hinder them getting closer to Jesus?

You might want to write down some of these thoughts and pray about them over the coming days. Why not ask God to show you anything that you or that we, as a church, could or should do about it?

The Bible tells us that Jesus was bringing in a new covenant (agreement) with humanity in which animal sacrifice would be replaced by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross. He would be the ‘Passover Lamb’ and he would atone for human sin once and for all. This means that all the damage that our sin has done can be repaired. Through Christ, we can be new creations!

Jesus cleansed the Temple because of sinful activities that got in the way of all people being able to truly worship God. Is there anything more important in your life than your relationship with Jesus?  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you any things that may be encroaching on your relationship with God and ask him to help you clear away any attitudes, actions or inactions that have started to come between you and him?


Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.
(Frances R. Havergal, 1874)

At the start of this week of devotions, why not make this song your prayer?

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
(from Numbers 6:23-27)